It has been 48 years since the brutal Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, which saw 1/3rd of the isle’s population become refugees. Despite being a universally condemned invasion, Ankara was able to get away with various heinous acts without repercussion. War crimes such as execution of Cypriot POWs, ethnic cleansing of Greek villages in the isle’s north, and population transfers of Anatolian Turks to Cyprus to change the demographics; all war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.
Despite the Greek community remaining divided with open wounds over the ethnic violence, coup, and subsequent invasion that brought trauma, Turkey has remained unapologetic and emboldened on the world stage which has not taken punitive actions the past 48 years. Now Turkey looks to enact further ambitions in not only the Eastern Mediterranean, but now more so in Syria and Iraq.
This spring, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced a new intention to further invade Syria, creating a “buffer zone” with a goal of dislodging the SDF, largely commanded by Kurdish troops affiliated with the YPG. This has come with great ire of fellow NATO members, who are the SDF as a counterbalance to ISIS, which has subsequently angered Erdogan and the ultranationalists in Turkey. Mirroring this rhetoric towards Syria, Turkey has already launched a military operation in Northern Iraq named Operation Claw-Lock against the PKK Kurdish militant group. These military operations further degrade the effort to combat jihadist groups in both nations, which largely rose from the power vacuum of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Erdogan has used his cunning and manipulative soft power diplomacy to put both NATO and Russia in a crossroads. With the internationally condemned invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been forced to allocate its military forces and stretch out its logistics, therefore leaving Syria much more vulnerable. According to the BBC, Newsweek, and Syrian Observer, this process started in late May and has been beneficial to Turkey, who announced intentions on starting the new offensive in Syria only a week later. Putin has attempted to deter the looming Turkish offensive through diplomatic efforts, knowing he doesn’t have the combat power to mitigate wide-scale Turkish backed offensives as they did in 2019. Both Erdogan and Putin met in Iran, along with the Iranian President who also attempted to mitigate the offensive, as Iran is also allied to Syria. These efforts failed as Erdogan has stated his operation will not be stopped.
Seizing an opportunity to hold the world’s most powerful military alliance hostage, Erdogan’s AKP party threatened to veto membership for Finland and Sweden. Through weeks of diplomacy, Erdogan received more concessions than he asked for from both Scandinavian countries, but has since recently declared neither has fulfilled their obligations to combat Kurdish groups. Erdogan may look to push his new offensive in Syria before the end of the fall, when most NATO members will have ratified the membership of Finland and Sweden.
It is evident the goal of the AKP is to hold both nation’s membership on hold and the current future of NATO hostage as long as possible. To Erdogan, the less western condemnation and possible more concessions, the better.
The looming operations have brought fear to minority ethnic groups such as the Kurds, Assyrians, and Yazidis in both Syria and Iraq who are seeing their villages shelled. All three ethnic groups paid a major price with the political instability of both Middle Eastern nations and lost insurmountable civilians to ISIS’ rampage since 2014. All three ethnic groups see both the Eastern and Western powers selling them out over moral condemnation for geopolitical hegemony in a wider Second Cold War. Despite Turkey stating their operations were aimed to “dislodge terrorist groups,” they’ve also ethnically cleansed regions. Afrin, formerly inhabited largely by Kurds, has been replaced by pro Turkish militant groups, along with a curricular system replaced by a pro Turkish system. What the international community has condemned Moscow on for Russification in Ukraine, they’ve turned the other cheek with Ankara in Syria.
Likewise, Greeks in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean isles such as Rhodes, Chios, Samos, and others are preparing for the worst, especially since Erdogan cut off all diplomatic ties with the Greek government. While various countries and regions prepare for Turkish expansion, world powers remain indifferent. By allowing one man to have leverage over them, the fate of millions are now in the hands of a tyrant, and the international community has no one else to blame but themselves for emboldening Turkish expansion, such as their lukewarm response 48 years ago in Cyprus.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO. He reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflicts, rogue geopolitics, and war, and also tells the stories of war victims who never get their voices heard.